by Drew Baumgartner and Taylor Anderson
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
The Christmas tree, where did that tradition come from? It sounds like the behavior of a drunk man. I can picture it now: ‘honey, why is there a…pine tree in our living room?’ “I like it! Tomorrow, we’re gonna…we’re gonna decorate it…for Jesus.”
Drew: Traditions are weird. Even if you understand the origins of holiday gift-giving or decorations or whatever, the reason you do it actually boils down to the fact that you always have, or your family always had. That is, the reason traditions are traditions is because they’re traditions. It’s not a super satisfying answer, especially when you’re questioning why we do these silly things in the first place, but the simple fact is that we tend to do things the way we’re used to doing them, even if we also think they’re silly. It takes some doing to break out of those habits, as the Krampus learns in Hellboy: Krampusnacht.
It’s 1975, and Hellboy is in Austria, investigating a man who claims to be Krampus — the “monster sidekick” of Santa Claus that terrorizes poorly behaved children at Christmastime in Germany (and other german-speaking areas). Actually, “investigating” might be a disservice: Krampus more or less summoned Hellboy by making a big, supernatural scene at the local church. It turns out, the Krampus has been more than terrorizing children, he’s been killing them. Moreover, he has tired of this tradition, and hopes Hellboy might be able to send him back to hell. Hellboy obliges (with the help of some of the ghosts of Krampus’s victims), only the Krampus doesn’t return to hell. Instead, he’s transformed back into a mortal goat.
It’s a development that throws everyone at B.P.R.D. for a loop, and complicates any moral that we might try to draw from this story. Krampus thought he was from hell, and thought he had to kill children on Christmas, but it turns out that at least that first part isn’t true. But what does that say about the second part?
Hellboy seems to take pity on the poor creature, leaving him a kind of improvised headstone, but it really isn’t clear how we should feel about this thing. Does his oddness make him sympathetic to Hellboy, or is it the fact that he ultimately wasn’t slave to the fate of creatures from hell? Like I said: it’s complicated. Writer Mike Mignola certainly doesn’t give us anything to love about the creature beyond its pitiful death, which leaves the issue on a decidedly melancholy note.
For his part, artist Adam Huges renders the issue with his typical beauty, though I’m most impressed at how kinetic the action is. Hellboy’s battle with the Krampus takes up the bulk of the issue, but it never feels drawn out the way so many fight scenes can. Indeed, combined with the lettering from Clem Robbins, those sequences are incredibly propulsive.
That just sends my eye zipping around the page in the most satisfying way. It’s one of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in quite a while.
Taylor, I feel like there’s more here, but I’m struggling to find an angle on this issue. It’s a rewarding enough one-off with a Christmas twist (which I suppose is all I was really looking for in the first place), but does it make you want to dig into the Hellboy back catalogue at all? Did this issue reveal anything new about Hellboy to you? Did it reveal anything new about Christmas? Krampus is a great intersection of Christmas and the darker supernatural stuff that tends to be Hellboy’s forte, but this took things in a very different direction than I might have expected. Did you like that surprise?
Taylor: Drew, I honestly think all of your questions can be rolled into one that asks how this issue relates to Hellboy and Christmas. For me, I’m not sure this issue arouses any further interest in Hellboy than I had before or necessarily tells me anymore about the character. Instead, I think it confirms everything that I’ve come to expect from the franchise and in the case of a one-off Christmas issue, that’s more than alright!
My favorite example of this comes after Hellboy defeats Krampus. His reaction is typically understated and in many ways encompasses my own views on the strange death of a Christmas legend.
Having just witnessed a centuries old demon parish and returning to its original goat form in the process, you would expect more of a reaction from Hellboy. That’s not the case, as his statement “well, that was something” indicates. And really, what else can someone say in this situation? Having just killed Krampus because he was tired of killing others is a pretty weird day, even if he hadn’t turned out to be a goat all along. It’s strange, sad, and a little funny all at once, and for my money I can’t think of a better reaction than the one Hellboy offers here. His reaction to this event is basically my own, and while that doesn’t engender any further interest in the series for me, it makes this issue quite fun to read.
The issue perhaps has a little more depth than Hellboy’s shoulder shrug would suggest, however. There’s something to be taken from the fact that Krampus wants to be killed by Hellboy. As you mentioned Drew, Krampus summoned Hellboy for the very reason that he’s tired of living — his reason being that he hates living on Earth.
Delving a little deeper into this reason, it becomes easier to understand why Krampus hates his life. Not only is he exiled from Hell (his preferred home) but he’s basically compelled to kill children on Christmas, normally one of the happiest days of the year for kids. This set of circumstances reveals that Krampus is actually living in a sort of hell on earth all to himself because he has to do something detestable on a holiday. This reminds me that for many people Christmas isn’t a happy time, but rather a reminder of their loneliness, alienation, or of the things they don’t have. Krampus represents these unfortunate people and in this way the issue serves as a reminder that Christmas isn’t so holly n’ jolly for everyone.
And with that in mind, we come to my favorite part of the issue. After the main story wraps up, the issue concludes with a few snapshots of Hellboy’s “Christmas Memories.” There’s only three, but each offers a reminder of why Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year for a lot of people. In one there’s a cherished, childhood memory of getting a beloved gift. In another, a fun office Holiday party. My favorite, however, is just titled “Alice.”
This simple panel of Hellboy and Alice holding each other speaks volumes about why the holidays can be special. It’s not the gifts, or the music, or the even seeing relatives. Instead, the holidays can be wonderful when you get a chance to share a quiet moment with a loved one. Holidays often give people the time off to simply slow down and enjoy being with the people they care about without having to rush off an do some chore or worrying about working the next day. This “Alice” panel perfectly captures this sentiment so well because it’s relatable. The cups of coffee, the quiet landscape, and the warm embrace are things all people have experienced and enjoyed. After a weird and dark Christmas issue, it’s a touching and welcome end to the issue that manages to capture the magic of the holidays in a truly authentic way.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?